Early in the summer, I had a tree full of sweet cherries. Just as they started to redden, the squirrels moved in for a feast. Fast forward into August, and 90 percent of my gorgeously branch-bending peaches suddenly either disappeared entirely or fell to the ground, pocked with squirrel-sized teeth marks.
Was I disappointed? Frustrated? Angry? You bet. I had lovingly pruned my fruit trees, eagerly monitored the appearance of their first leaves, and watched them flower and begin to swell with fruit. It was maddening to think that in a neighborhood filled with acorns and other squirrel-ready snacks, they would swipe the fruits of my labors.
But then I encountered this quote from the journalist and naturalist Hal Borland: “You can’t be suspicious of a tree, or accuse a bird or a squirrel of subversion, or challenge the ideology of a violet.” It was a helpful corrector to my aggravation. As much as gardeners love to joke and commiserate about the bunnies, birds, groundhogs and, of course, squirrels that ravage our gardens, these creatures aren’t trying to hurt us. They’re just being their natural selves.
And they’re not so different from us, in some ways. Like human beings, squirrels have a sweet tooth—that’s why they didn’t munch on my cherries or peaches until they were ripening and producing their sugary goodness. To think that they ate just to keep me from making a pie isn’t only an overestimation of squirrel intelligence, it’s a hubristic assumption that I am the center of the universe, and it’s up to the animals to live by my rules.
I decided to try to show the squirrels a little compassion. After all, we share a habitat—part of the reason I have trees and flowers is to give nature its due space.
As if to reinforce this point, I was able to harvest about a half dozen peaches that were beautifully un-chewed, and just juicy enough to finish ripening on the kitchen counter. It’s as if the squirrels said, “We’ve had enough. You help yourself.” That’s probably another overestimation of their intelligence too—but it certainly helped us end the summer on a sweet note.